Anxiety, Addiction and Medication: What You Need To Know

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Many people suffering from addiction began using substances as a form of self-medication to escape a sense of disconnection from self and others. Are anti-anxiety drugs always the best solution for the recovering addict?

Self-Medicating To Feel Different / Better

The experience of anxiety can begin very early in life, although it is often not noticed by primary caregivers, teachers, the family physician, or others who might be able to appropriately intervene. Children, teens and young adults suffering from unrecognized, undiagnosed anxiety due to growing up in a dysfunctional or even neglectful / abusive home environment may begin to 'self-medicate' with substances such as food, drugs, or alcohol and activities such as excessive TV watching and video gaming in an unconscious attempt to quiet their distressful symptoms without even realizing that they are seeking some kind of temporary or permanent relief.

Adults who did not experience anxiety when younger may develop an anxiety disorder without being consciously aware of it, and they, too, may begin self-medicating with substances. As a therapist who has worked in several drug and alcohol treatment centers, I can say with certainty that unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated anxiety was often fueling the process of addiction, meaning, the addict began using substances initially to escape a sense of internal discomfort that was not recognized as anxiety at the time. In short, a fundamental experience of disconnection from self and others along with unrecognized anxiety symptoms were identified by nearly every drug and alcohol addicted client I have worked with as being at the root of his or her addictive patterns and behaviors. To learn more about loss of connection with self and others, read my article, below:

The Pros And Cons Of Anti-Anxiety Medication

 

 

While it is true that medication can relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety, it doesn’t cure the underlying problem and it’s usually not a long-term solution. Anti-anxiety medications also come with side effects and may lead to a dependence on the medication. With the popularization of psychotropic medications to treat a variety of mental and behavioral health disturbances, most any type of uncomfortable feeling or symptom is viewed by both patients and their doctors as something to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible. It is increasingly common for family doctors to write out a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication after only a brief discussion with their patient regarding the distressing symptoms being experienced, without recommending that the patient also confer with a Mental Health professional, such as a therapist or counselor.

Mindfulness Meditation And The Reduction Of Anxiety Symptoms

 

 

While taking anti-anxiety medication to minimize distressing feelings and symptoms is a personal choice, and in some cases is medically advisable, there are other effective interventions that a person suffering from anxiety can pursue, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; keeping an Awareness Journal as part of ongoing Psychotherapeutic-based Intrapsychic / Family Systems work; engaging in deep breathing exercises; yoga; daily physical exercise; and homeopathic remedies as prescribed by a Naturopathic doctor.

Recent research also confirms that Mindfulness Meditation can be highly effective in addressing anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully engaged in whatever is going on around you. “It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it”, explains Kate Hanley, author of A Year of Daily Calm: A Guided Journal for Creating Tranquility Every Day. “By choosing to turn your attention away from the everyday chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus on that it can quiet down.” In 2013 researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study that confirmed that Mindfulness Meditation reduces anxiety at a neural level.

Working Mindfully With Anxiety

As the above discussion illustrates, there may be far more to anxiety than meets the eye. While it is understandable why anyone experiencing anxiety would want relief from these extremely uncomfortable symptoms, it may be that the symptoms themselves are pointing to possible solutions to those who are willing to explore their anxiety via mindfully cultivating an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and patience. Journaling, painting, and other forms of creative expression, as well as psychotherapy and/or sharing in a support group, may offer a means of discovering the wisdom that anxiety has to offer.

For additional resources pertaining to Mindfulness Meditation as an alternative, non-medication based treatment for anxiety, you may explore the 'Headspace' link below. And please feel free to share your experiences of anxiety in the comment section — I'd love to hear from you.

FREE APP: Headspace For Anxiety
  • Headspace
    Our series of Meditation for Anxiety sessions help you to deal with worries and feel calmer. Sign up to use our Meditation App for free today!

 

Rebecca C. Mandeville is a licensed psychotherapist, coach, educator, and author specializing in integral, embodied living. She is the founder of ChainFree Living (http://chainfreeliving.com), an online hub offering free resources and community peer-support to people who wish to consciously experience their innate wholeness. Her book, 'You Are Already Whole: On Discovering and Being Your True Self', will be published in 2017.
 
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